A man. A lava lamp. A computer. He types ‘Jennifer Lopez’ into a search engine. Welcome to Jennifer Lopez Online, says the website. He clicks further. Jennifer Lopez appears in a white room, lined by surveillance cameras. She wears all white. ‘If you had my love and I gave you all my trust, would you comfort me?’ she sings. All over the world people are seen tuning in to watch Jennifer, in bedrooms, internet cafés and nightclubs. It is the year 1999. Bill Clinton is the President of the United States. The Y2K bug threatens. Prince has prophesied the end of the world.
If You Had My Love was the debut single from Jennifer Lopez. Released in May 1999, the song quickly rose to the top of the US charts, overtaking Ricky Martin’s megahit Livin’ la Vida Loca. For a debut single to reach number one is a rare feat, but in 1999, Jennifer Lopez was already a star. She had risen to fame with a breakout film role in Selena (1997), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as the late singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez as well as a million-dollar salary, making her the highest-paid Latina actress in history. She backed up this success with a starring role in the box-office hit Anaconda (1997) and Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed Out of Sight (1998) opposite George Clooney. From this solid footing in the film industry, crossing into pop music was seen as a risky step. It paid off, with her debut album On the 6, and its multiple genre-spanning hit singles including If You Had My Love, Waiting for Tonight and Let’s Get Loud, selling over eight million copies worldwide. Appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999, Lopez was asked ‘How wonderful is it to be you right now?’ She smiled, saying, ‘It’s good. It’s really good.’
As a primary school kid in the beachside suburbs of Newcastle in 1999, the music video for If You Have My Love fascinated me. It represented an adult world of glamour, sophistication and sexuality that I did not yet have access to or fully comprehend. Television-addicted and easily susceptible to the materialistic influences of my inchoate pop cultural obsessions: I wanted everything in it. I wanted her clothes. I wanted an iMac with coloured sides. I wanted to live in a place where everything was white, silver and chrome. The online world the video presented was exciting, promising a brave new technological millennium where celebrities’ inner worlds were publicly accessible to anyone. Just by typing ‘Jennifer Lopez’ into a search engine the man alone at his computer represented a global phenomenon — an online collective of others who were also tuned in and transfixed by Jennifer’s body. A few words typed into a computer could provide the keys to anything I put my imagination to.
The computer graphics for the If You Had My Love music video was produced by Los Angeles-based visual effects house Banned From the Ranch. NetBot, the fictional web browser featured in the video, was originally developed by the company for use in teen sex comedy American Pie (also 1999), where it was deployed in a similarly voyeuristic context. The interface’s most prominent use in the film appears in a scene where Jim (Jason Biggs) leaves the webcam on in his room in order to surreptitiously film Czech exchange student Nadia getting changed after her ballet class while his male friends watch on in a nearby house. However, Nadia is unaware and unconsenting of the camera secretly filming her, whereas Jennifer Lopez’s camgirl act is a self-aware mode of direct address—a statement of purpose, an expression of identity. She smiles and waves at the camera as she first walks into the room. She faces the lens head-on as she lays out the conditions of her love: ‘Now if I give you me, this is how it’s got to be.’
Fast-forward to the new millennium. It’s February 2000. Jennifer Lopez attends the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards with boyfriend, Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs. Both are nominated—Lopez for Best Dance Recording for Waiting for Tonight; Puff Daddy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for Satisfy You featuring R. Kelly. Neither will win, but that hardly matters. The night will be remembered for one thing above all else: Jennifer Lopez’s green Versace dress. Crafted out of jungle-print silk chiffon and with a neckline splitting below Lopez’s navel and opening again at the thigh, it cuts a particularly revealing figure. Walking on stage to present the first award of the night (Best R&B Album), she’s welcomed with a cacophony of cheers and wolf-whistles from the audience. Her co-presenter, David Duchovny may as well not exist. ‘Well, Jennifer,’ he says, ‘This is the first time in five or six years that I am sure that nobody is looking at me.’
The prophecy brought forward by If You Had My Love of a man and a search engine was subsequently fulfilled. Jennifer Lopez’s Grammy’s dress became front-page news. A global eruption of online searches was spawned; hordes of captions fired off in search of their corresponding image. It was the most popular search query Google had witnessed since the search engine’s launch in 1998. But no set of keywords, whether it be ‘jennifer lopez green dress’, ‘jennifer lopez grammy’s dress’, ‘jennifer lopez versace dress’ or some other variation, would provide users direct access to the image they sought. In February 2000, Google search results still comprised of a list of links that searchers would have to trawl through in blind hope of finding their desired visual.
The realisation of this shortcoming inspired Google to introduce an image search feature to their website. In a 2015 article for Project Syndicate, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recalls: ‘We had no sure-fire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: JLo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.’ This cultural moment has since been enshrined into Internet legend, immortalised recently at the Versace Spring 2020 womenswear collection in Milan in September 2019, where Jennifer Lopez walked the catwalk in an updated version of the dress, flanked by a screen showcasing Google Image Search results of her 2000 Grammy’s red carpet appearance. While from today’s perspective it is difficult to remember a time when Google was not the most popular search engine in the world, in the year 2000 they were a relative newcomer still gaining momentum and competing with other major players such as Yahoo, AOL and AltaVista. It is important to note that in February 2000, AltaVista already had an image search function up and running. A text-based image retrieval system, AltaVista’s image search would take search terms and return images based on the text found on the pages images were hosted on, such as image titles and descriptions. The initial iteration of Google Images was similar but advanced over the years to include content-based image search; producing results by analysing the visual content of images themselves, and reverse image search; where an image is used to find other similar images. Google Images would go on to become the most popular and comprehensive online image search, and AltaVista would cease operations in 2013.
An exposed female celebrity body acting as a catalyst for the development of a cornerstone of our current digital existence was not an isolated incident. Four years later, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson performed a rendition of Timberlake’s hit single Rock Your Body at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. To correspond with the song’s final lines (‘Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song’), Timberlake tore off a section of Janet Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast on live television for a fraction of a second. The incident spiked a frenzy of online searches, quickly becoming the most searched event in the history of the Internet at the time. Janet Jackson was even bestowed a spot in Guinness World Records for ‘Most Searched Person in Internet History’ and ‘Most Searched News Item in Internet History’ in 2007. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim credits the event with planting the seed of inspiration for the creation of the world’s largest online video sharing platform. He missed the event on TV and struggled to find videos of the performance online, leading to the idea of a video sharing site. In February 2005, YouTube was born. The road to dot com dominance was paved in the demand for female celebrity flesh.
In our current social media-dominated era, the desire to consume celebrity content persists unabated. The world of pop star surveillance put forward by If You Had My Love has mutated into different forms. We devour their beauty routines, home tours and YouTube quizzes. Star social media accounts are more influential than ever before. In February 2018, Kylie Jenner tweeted ‘sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?’ The following day, Snapchat stock dropped $1.3 billion in market value. Jennifer Lopez connects to her millions of fans on Instagram and YouTube. She’ll tell you how she mastered the pole dance from Hustlers, or recount the story behind the Versace Dress. She’ll sell you her range of eyewear. In February 2020, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Grammy’s dress. Somewhere in the world, someone is typing ‘jennifer lopez green dress’ into a search engine, a caption in search of an image.
 Jeff Zest. 'Jennifer Lopez Interview & Performance on Oprah 1999.' Published on June 16, 2019, YouTube video, 18:41. https://youtu.be/9Im4mSsHsN4
 'Jennifer Lopez And David Duchovny Present Best R&B Album At The 42nd GRAMMY Awards,' Recording Academy / GRAMMYs, published on September 20, 2019, YouTube video, 01:02. https://youtu.be/tq1Q3Sw7jyw
 Eric Schmidt, 'The Tinkerer’s Apprentice,' Project Syndicate, January 19, 2015. https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/google-european-commission-and-disruptive-technological-change-by-eric-schmidt-2015-01
 Idan Pinto, 'A Brief History of Image Search,' Syte, March 21, 2018. https://www.syte.ai/blog/brief-history-image-search/
 Loren Baker. 'Janet Jackson Tops Internet Search Terms,' Search Engine Journal, February 5, 2004. https://www.searchenginejournal.com/janet-jackson-tops-internet-search-terms/250/#close
 Hugh McIntyre, 'How Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’ Helped Start YouTube,' Forbes, February 1, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2015/02/01/how-janet-jacksons-super-bowl-wardrobe-malfunction-helped-start-youtube/#b79a2c119ca4
 Kaya Yurieff, 'Snapchat stock loses $1.3 billion after Kylie Jenner tweet,' CNN, February 23, 2018. https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/22/technology/snapchat-update-kylie-jenner/index.html
Jessica Ellicott is a writer and film distribution professional living in Sydney. She is the Marketing Executive at Transmission Films, where she has worked on the theatrical releases of films such as Sweet Country, Carol, Suspiria and The Nightingale.
She is one of the editors of online film publication 4:3. Her film criticism and interviews have featured in SBS Movies, ABC Radio National, The Big Issue and 4:3. She has covered numerous international film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and Filmfest Munich, and was a participant in the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival Critics Campus program, where she was mentored by Jonathan Rosenbaum. She is a current advisory panel member at both Sydney Film Festival and Film in Revolt, and a jury member for Flickerfest 2020.
She thinks Toni Erdmann was one of the best films of the previous decade and lives in hope that Adam Sandler will win an Oscar for his performance in Uncut Gems.
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